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Another Michigan medical center faces federal lawsuits over alleged racial discrimination

John Eisenschenk
Creative Commons
Work is underway on Mary Free Bed's new expansion project in Grand Rapids. It's expected to be complete next fall.

Earlier this year, Flint’s Hurley Medical Center faced national media scrutiny when an African-American nurse was told not to care for a baby at a patient’s request. The case was settled outside of court.

Julie Gafkay represented that nurse and says she was not alone.

“I got calls from all over the country from people who had been in similar situations. I think it’s wrong and it needs to be addressed and there needs to be a dialogue and a solution to it,” Gafkay said.

Two of the calls Gafkay took have resulted in two new federal court cases with similar allegations.

Timika Foster, a former nurse, and Jill Crane, a current nursing supervisor at Mary Free Bed in Grand Rapids, allege they were not allowed to tend to a patient because of their race at the patient’s request. Both also allege they were passed over for promotions in part because of the issue.

Gafkay says a Caucasian patient had been admitted into the facility in 2011, and the staff was told “the family did not want ‘any black caregivers caring for him.”

Both women, independent of one another, attempted to resolve the issue internally. Gafkay says they tried to talk to multiple supervisors about the issue, but that their concerns “fell on deaf ears.”

“They were put into a difficult position where if a call light went on for that patient they were not supposed to respond only because of the color of their skin not because of their skill or any problem with their performance,” Gafkay said.

Mary Free Bed declined to comment but issued a written statement CEO Kent Riddle sent to employees last week:

A Frankenmuth attorney has filed a second lawsuit against the hospital on behalf of a nurse who left Mary Free Bed employment last spring. It alleges racial discrimination and appears to be related to a suit filed by the same attorney last month on behalf of a colleague in our nursing department. I am very proud of Mary Free Bed’s commitment to diversity and inclusion. When I joined the board of trustees nearly ten years ago, I was then, and continue to be, impressed with our diversity hotline, minority scholarship program, hiring and promotion practices, staff diversity education, and our century-long culture of honoring and supporting diversity. As you know, Mary Free Bed simply doesn’t tolerate discrimination and has a formal process in place to deal with employee concerns. We need to trust the legal process and let the facts speak for themselves in this sensitive situation. In the meantime, we must not allow these cases to distract us from our primary commitment to our patients and to each other. Mary Free Bed has been and always will be a mission driven organization that values diversity and treats colleagues and patients with respect and compassion.

Lindsey Smith is a Peabody Award-winning journalist currently leading the station's Amplify Team. She previously served as Michigan Public's Morning News Editor, Investigative Reporter and West Michigan Reporter.
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